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Vestibular System Activity





Activity Description

“Get the Balance Right” is a hands-on activity where students learn about their vestibular system and sensory adaptation.  Students learn that our sensory systems do not always function the same from day to day, and that their function is intricately tied to the environment and experience.

This activity is part of a unit on sensory systems and the ways in which we can investigate how our nervous systems are structured through observable sensory phenomena.  It is designed to come after students have completed activities/investigations into the visual and auditory systems.

This activity can be expanded through balanced-based activities (e.g. a boat trip, a classroom visit from an experienced surfer or tight rope walker… the options are vast).


Estimated Time of Activity

This activity takes a total of two and a half weeks, but the first week involves at-home assignments that should begin during the previous activity.  One and a half weeks of class time are therefore needed.


Activity Objectives

Students will begin to understand the limitations of our sensory systems and how our nervous systems compensate for these limitations.  Additionally, in this activity students will see first hand the ability of our sensory systems to adapt to our environment and experiences. Students will use experimental observations to formulate hypotheses about the nervous system.


Universal Design for Learning (Differentiation)

This activity is student-guided and inquiry based.  Assessment questions are open-ended with an emphasis on scientific thinking more than actual experimental results.


Activity Prerequisites (Pre-Activity)

Great resource about the vestibular system!

Students will be given balance tasks to do at home during the week prior to the start of this activity.

Students should be familiar with the basic structure of the vestibular system, focusing on the inner ear and proprioception.

Slides attached.


Activity Instructions


  1. The week before the start of this activity, assign students homework to do 20 minutes per day of practice for a particular balance activity.

This activity is one that needs to be adapted into something that can be done while pouring water from one bottle into another.  For example, standing on one foot.  Other ideas include:

  • Balancing on a bongo board or other such balance board.
  • Balancing on a small box of about 4" x 4".
  • Balancing on one foot low down to the ground.  This can involve playing the "Paper Bag Game", which time allowing you may have students do one day in class to get their activities started.

Day 1

  1. Since students have just done activities based on the auditory system, many should already have some knowledge that parts of the inner ear are responsible for balance.  They will likely be unfamiliar, however, with how these parts work, so start off by asking them for ideas on how we stay balanced.  Once students have given some general ideas...
  2. Break students up into groups of about 4 to 6 students per group and have them come up with answers to the following questions: (1) How do we stay balanced? (2) How can you improve your balance? Why? (3) Do you think your balanced improved as a result of the balance activity that you practiced this week? (4) What senses does your vestibular system use to help you balance and how?
  3. Have each group formulate their answers and either at the end of the class period, or at the beginning of the next class period, have each group give their answers and summarize them on the board or on easel paper.  Encourage class discussion between groups.
  4. If students' balance activity supplies are not at the school, make sure to tell them to have everything for their balance activities in the classroom for the following day.

Day 2

On this day, students will gather their data.  You will need:

  • The supplies for their balance activities.
  • Empty 16 oz. soda or water bottles.
  • A water source.
  • A liquid measuring device (such as a graduated cylinder or measuring cup).
  • A stopwatch.
  1. Distribute the Vestibular System Activity instruction sheet and have students break up into groups of 4 consisting of 2 students from each balance activity.
  2. Distribute a set of supplies to each group.  If supplies are short, group numbers and/or timing may need to be adjusted.  Each student will be timed on their performance doing both their practiced balance activity and the other balance activity.
  3. To run a trial, fill one bottle with 500 mL of water while leaving the other bottle empty.
  4. A student should get into the position of their balance activity, and once they are in position they should be handed the two bottles and the timer starts.  Note that the full bottle should be in the student's dominant hand at the start of the activity.
  5. Students are timed in how long it takes them to pour the water from one bottle into the other bottle.
  6. Once students have finished pouring the water into the other bottle, they need to measure how much water they successfully poured, and in turn how much they spilled.
  7. When starting the next trial, make sure that there is once again 500 mL of water in the bottle at the start of the trial.
  8. Each student should be timed and measured on their task performance while doing both balance activities.
  9. Record data on the Activity Sheet.


Have students answer the following questions in their science notebooks.

  • Doing which balance activity were you better at performing the water pouring task?  Why?
  • Were those who had practiced a particular balance activity better or worse at performing the water pouring task than those who had not practiced that activity?  Why?
  • If you did get better at performing the water pouring task through practice in a particular balance activity, how can you explain that even though you had not actually practiced the water pouring?  Think about the interaction between your senses.

Day 3



NYS/CCL Standards (Content Knowledge, IAD)

Identify the standards the activity is aligned with.

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Write the assessment description here.

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Write the activity assignments here. Assignments should specify include what students will do in class as well as produce outside of class (homework).

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  • A balance activity.  This can be something simple requiring no materials (like standing on one foot), or it can be more complex like a bongo board type balance board, or walking a balance beam (or simple skinny piece of wood).

Instructor’s Notes

Write any specific instructions that the instructor may need to carry out the activity in addition to the activity instructions. Include links to papers, web sites, and additional resources for both teachers and students.

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